Before his later years when he composed in the summertime in a small wooden cabin above a clear blue Norwegian fjord amidst Ullensvang facing the Folgefonna glacier, the innovative, highly melodic, and richly harmonic music of this man, once called the "Chopin of the North," already exhibited a prodigious talent. At the early age of 15, Grieg entered the Leipzig Conservatory, graduating four years later and already composing mature and skillful works. Grieg was only 25 when he created one of his world famous masterpieces, the Piano Concerto in A Minor which can be heard in the soundtrack to Windjammer: The Voyage of the Christian Radich (1958). This concerto is as expansive as a Norwegian landscape and contains the modal lyricism and rich harmonic accumulations (9th and 13th chords, for example) that came to characterize much of Grieg's output. Grieg's most advanced harmonies can be heard in his Norwegian Peasant Dances and Tunes, Op. 72 and his last major completed work, Four Psalms for mixed choir.
Works like Before a Southern Convent for soprano, contralto, ladies' choir, and orchestra (1871), and music for the scenic dramas Sigurd Jorsalfar and Olav Trygvason, show the composer's deep affinity for his national roots and his respect for folk music. This feeling was perhaps brought forth most evidently when Henrik Ibsen asked Griegto write the incidental music to Peer Gynt, the two orchestral suites which have become very popular. It is the movement from this work entitled In the Hall of the Mountain King that has been most quoted in soundtracks, and is instantly recognizable by audiences. One of its first occurrences was in D.W. Griffith's controversial The Birth of a Nation (1915) (aka The Clansman). This gradually accelerating theme has since appeared in other dramatic, suspenseful, and even eerie contexts, such as in the psychological Peter Lorre thriller M (1931), Peer Gynt (1941), the television production The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957), the memorable sci-fi film Soylent Green (1973), Demoni (Demons, 1985), the creepy Stephen King-based Satan-moves-into-a-small-town-in-the-guise-of-an-antique-dealer horror film Needful Things (1993), Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), The Crown Jewel of Indonesia (1999), The Mountain King (2001), and Rat Race (2001).
Grieg's many volumes of Lyric Pieces all contain brilliant character studies that have found their way into a few films, such as the Lyric Pieces, Op. 54 Nocturne used in Rock 'n' Roll Frankenstein (1999), and the Lyric Piece No. 28, Op. 47, No. 6 in Babe (1995). Hopefully, many of these beautiful gems will be discovered by future filmmakers.